Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Benchmarking, or External Referencing

Benchmarking is a process of externally referencing practices through which we as a higher education provider can compare an aspect of our operations with an external comparator(s). (TEQSA, 2015)

The purposes of external referencing are varied, but typically include:

  • providing evidence of the quality and standing of a provider’s operations
  • offering an external evidence base as context for the development of internal improvements, especially to student outcomes
  • establishing or fostering collaborative improvement efforts across providers.

While all higher education institutions are required under the Higher Education Standards Framework (2015) to undertake comprehensive reviews of all accredited courses of study, the ultimate purpose is to improve and enhance quality internally in our institution. These reviews, on all accredited courses of study, must be overseen by peak academic governance processes at least every seven years and include external referencing or other benchmarking activities.

So the main reason for external referencing is to gain feedback from other institutions and work to improve our quality.

Further information is available about Peer Review of Assessment through External Referencing.

An overview of the Higher Education Standards Framework can be found on the TEQSA website.

The TEQSA Guidance Note on Benchmarking outlines the characteristics of benchmarking in higher education. The broad types of benchmarking include:

  1. Organizational benchmarking: in which comparisons are made at the organizational level (institution, faculty/department, school, course and unit levels)
  2. Course benchmarking: of course design and student performance
  3. Process benchmarking: involving comparisons of particular processes and practices
  4. Outcomes benchmarking: the comparison of outcomes data, especially student outcomes
  5. Best practice benchmarking: in which the provider selects a comparator thought to be at the forefront in the area to be benchmarked.

TEQSA provides guidance notes on different parts of the HESF (2015). More than one type of benchmarking may be used at any one time but Provider Registration Standard 5.6 requires a provider to compare its performance on teaching, student learning outcomes, graduate outcomes (which includes both graduate employment and further study), and research (where applicable) with other higher education providers.

PCAS 5.5 specifically refers to course benchmarking, not only of intended academic achievement standards but also of student performance data relevant to outcomes (see below). So our main purpose is to see how our students are achieving their outcomes and whether we compare well with other institutions.

Course benchmarking is a systematic external comparison of course design features of a proposed course with comparable courses at other providers, including admission criteria, assessment tasks, student work samples and assessment criteria. Student performance data relating to outcomes would normally include: attrition/retention rates, student progress and completion rates.

Section 5.3 Monitoring, Review and Improvement (HESF, 2015)

This Section requires a provider to conduct periodic comprehensive reviews of all courses (at least every seven years with evidence to be provided as part of the renewal of registration application to TEQSA), backed by more frequent monitoring of the day-to-day delivery of courses of study e.g. periodic reviews of units and annual review of student performance. TEQSA will expect to see that such reviews are conducted (or will be conducted in the case of a new provider or course of study) according to the requirements of the Standards as part of the provider’s normal operations, and that the findings of the reviews are evidently used to generate improvements.

In demonstrating that it meets this Standard, a provider will need to demonstrate in particular that reviews of courses of study involve considered oversight by the institutional academic governance processes, external referencing (which can include moderation of assessment against other programs, benchmarking of student success and course design against programs at other providers) and feedback from students.

CSU is undertaking external referencing of assessment in 2018 in order to improve its quality of achievement of outcomes by students although it also complies with TEQSA requirements. Further information is available about Peer Review of Assessment through External Referencing.


Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015,  ยง Subsection 58(1) of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011 (TEQSA Act 2011) (2015).

Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency. (2016). Guidance note: External referencing (including benchmarking). Retrieved from